BBC Video // 1991 // 624 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // February 13th, 2008
"All of this sounds terribly familiar. You've always been broke, and you've always had a tarnished reputation." -- Lady Jane Felsham to Lovejoy
It's a tough task to bring a TV series back after five years off the air. Fortunately, Ian La Frenais, who developed Jonathan Gash's mystery novels for television, had some experience with minding a gap like that; with writing partner Dick Clement, he'd revived The Likely Lads, their popular 1960s sitcom, after a similar stretch. Clement joined La Frenais in penning the Season Two opener of Lovejoy.
The first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? found one of the two protagonists returning from the Army and trying to resume his former life. Ian McShane's Lovejoy too finds himself returning to his old haunts after a long stretch.
"Do you believe this? Lovejoy banged up. Wrongly, as it happened," Lovejoy says, directly addressing viewers about eight months behind bars.
Lovejoy: The Complete Season Two sends Lovejoy on 11 new adventures:
* "Just Desserts": Lovejoy seeks revenge for the frame that sent him to prison. Lady Jane Felsham is putting him up in a cottage on the estate -- but she hasn't told husband Alexander yet.
* "The Italian Venus": When Lovejoy sees "a fake that's better than the original," he must find the artist. Lovejoy does, with a little help from Janie, and helps the artist scam a tight-fisted relative.
* "Bin Diving": Lovejoy's accused of a break-in, and he can't give an alibi because he spent the night in Felsham Hall (innocently, but who'd believe that?). A (garbage) tip provides the clue he needs to find the culprits.
* "Montezuma's Revenge": Lovejoy's dreaming of locking lips with Lady Jane, and he might get his chance, since she's seen Alexander sneaking around in the company of an attractive woman. Meanwhile, a cursed statue brings bad luck: There are two dead bodies, and he's the prime suspect.
* "Who Dares, Sings": Janie's decorating a new pub for a client who's "bonkers, broke, and an old buddy of Tinker's." Lovejoy's worried, but he should be more worried about being tricked into a house burglary by his prison buddy.
* "One Born Every Minute": Lovejoy doesn't believe that the Army major looking for a nomad artist (Tom Wilkinson, Shakespeare in Love) wants to commission a portrait, but the broke antiques dealer undertakes the search anyway. He soon discovers that the nomad "leaves a trail of storm damage in his wake."
* "National Wealth": Lovejoy spends the night with a female auctioneer, unaware her father is part of a gang robbing the home of Lovejoy's client, a former film star. Lovejoy investigates, but it's Tinker's daring that foils the next heist.
* "Sugar and Spice": Lovejoy runs into his ex during parents' day at daughter Vicki's boarding school. Lovejoy also runs into the girl who tried to sell him a collection of 18th century erotica. He suspects she's in trouble and, as usual, he's right.
* "Raise the Hispanic": The groom disappears from a wedding reception after the bride's father catches him cheating on his vows. Lovejoy finds the wayward groom, dead, in a suit of armor, but the body's missing when the police turn up.
* "Lily's Pearls": For once, Lovejoy's not the bull in the china shop who's ruining Alexander's dinner party; that honor falls to Alexander's new business partner and his wife. That alone's enough to make Janie suspicious, so she asks Lovejoy to check the developer out.
* "Riding in Rollers" (Part 1): Lovejoy's falling for Cassandra Lynch (Linda Gray, Dallas) after running her charity auction for her, but he's not sold on the idea of conning a crooked art dealer (Brian Blessed, Flash Gordon) -- until a Japanese businessman (Mako, Pearl Harbor) comes along with the same idea.
* "The Black Virgin of Vladimir" (Part 2): Lovejoy's con involving a religious icon is running like clockwork, but there'll be a complication before he's done.
Lovejoy may be done with direct adaptations of Jonathan Gash novels and rival Charlie Gimbert is nowhere to be seen, but the show does return to familiar form. "Just Desserts" gets Season Two off to a great start, with Lovejoy's friends staying loyal, even if they don't have faith in his character.
"I didn't immediately presume that you were innocent," Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan, The McGuffin) -- Janie to her friends -- tells Lovejoy (Ian McShane, Deadwood) after picking him up from prison. She's also a little irked that he's looking better than ever, having spent his stint in stir playing tennis. "People do go to prison to be punished," she chides him. Even so, she lends a hand, putting him up in a cottage not unlike the one he had before and even loaning him her rusty old car, Miriam.
When Miriam's not running, Eric Catchpole (Chris Jury, Grange Hill) is always willing to give him a lift in his motorbike sidecar. Eric's still eager, and still has a penchant for getting in trouble -- he angers the local garbage men by "bin diving" and lands Lovejoy in trouble by agreeing to sell a cursed statue.
Lovejoy's other loyal pal, Tinker Dill (Dudley Sutton, The Pink Panther Strikes Again), is still a gentle-natured tippler with an eye for ladies and antiques, filling in Lovejoy's rare gaps in knowledge and doing legwork in Lovejoy's investigations. Two of the season's strongest episodes feature Tinker: he warbles in "Who Dares, Sings" and takes chivalrous action when the movie star he's fallen for is robbed in "National Wealth."
The phrase, "Don't you go on any long-distance trips without letting us know," is still a favorite with the local constabulary, and Janie's husband is still largely absentee, allowing her to get involved in Lovejoy's sometimes dangerous and shady escapades.
The stories are roughly the same, with the crooked Lovejoy outwitting even more crooked adversaries, although the body count dropped a bit once Jonathan Gash's plots were exhausted. Lovejoy's still perpetually down on his luck, illustrated by Janie's answer when Lovejoy borrows money from Eric: "That means he likes you. He does that to all his friends." If Lovejoy goes to a swanky party, he'll turn up in jeans and his ever-present leather jacket, but he manages to fit in, sort of, thanks to his storehouse of knowledge. It's not just about antiques; at one party, he's the only one who recognizes the entree as salmon, while the swells can only place it as "fish."
The transfer isn't horrible, but is at times faded or scratched and sometimes, and I noticed that I'd turned the volume up to catch all the lines when a metal band did a number in "Montezuma's Revenge."
Ian McShane sticks around for an interview, a 10-minute continuation of the one started in the Season One DVD set. His recollections of Season Two episodes point to what may be Lovejoy's greatest strength, strong performances from both regulars and guest stars. There's also a BBC interview (from a show called Scene Today) that includes a black-and-white clip from McShane's 1967 appearance in Wuthering Heights; McShane also jokes about how he plans to have a nice, long run so Lovejoy will "be a nice pension for me" and mentions the possibility of a Lovejoy movie (which never materialized).
Linda Gray has good chemistry with Ian McShane, but the two-part "Black Virgin of Vladimir" story is a bit of a letdown after an otherwise strong season. If you're looking for good guest turns, wait till Season Three comes out for a story arc with Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers).
If you're a fan of Lovejoy, it's time to ask yourself which version you prefer: the loner Lovejoy of Jonathan Gash's increasingly audacious caper novels or Ian McShane's genial Robin Hood. With the second season, the two versions of the character head off in different directions. As you might expect, the character humor in Lovejoy gets sharper but the series starts to become less concerned with the mysteries and plots.
All of this sounds terribly familiar, but if you like detective shows on the
lighter side, Lovejoy's reputation is intact. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 624 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Ian McShane Looks Back on Lovejoy, Part 2"
* BBC Interview with Ian McShane
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1